Thursday October 26, 2017
If you feel like the school budget season was not that long ago, you would be correct. This year, the school district budget passed on its third attempt in June, instead of when it has typically passed, on town meeting day in March. This late vote pushed back a number of items including hiring for the current school year. Nonetheless, the development process for the FY 19 budget has begun and the school board had a chance at their October 18 meeting to review and give input on several items that could impact the budget.
There are a number of competing factors that will present challenges to the budget this year. The effort to balance the needs of students and the taxpayer, especially after the contentious year that was FY 18, will be top of mind. A potential increase in health care premiums between 10 and 16 percent is sure to be a big cost driver. Other, more unique factors, include the potential for the Governor to call for level funded budgets while also mandating an Act 85 health insurance payback in the current year budgets, which, in the case of South Burlington, is $164,086.
In addition, some sobering news from Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe indicates that a seven to nine percent increase in the statewide property tax is likely unless boards make budget cuts. Student to staff ratio is one area the state is considering having boards explore in order to achieve those cuts. School board member Martin LaLonde said he would like to see some reductions in staff since “the ratios aren’t where they need to be.” He also said he would like to see what a level funded budget looks like earlier in the process.
Board member Bridget Burkhardt added that she would like to see a budget based upon the changes the district already knows are coming. Some items School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald wanted clarified were fixed versus variable costs as well as information on tuition students.
One of the key items discussed October 18 was how the district should move forward with their stewardship plan, which is a roadmap for facility improvements. In the past, the board has included facility stewardship in their operating budget, but as some bigger ticket items come forward, such as parking lot upgrades, the replacement of the HVAC system, and roofing, Superintendent David Young and Business Manager John Aubin floated the idea of using bonds to pay for these expenses instead. Aubin estimates that in the next three to five years, four to eight million dollars’ worth of projects will be necessary district wide. This is where going to the Municipal Bond Bank for a 20-year bond makes more sense to Young. The board seemed amenable to the possibility, and it will remain a talking point as discussions evolve. The bond would require voter approval and the board is cognizant that the city will also have bond requests forthcoming and is thus, coordinating with their administration as well to ensure they aren’t overwhelming the taxpayer in a single year.
Citizens Budget Advisory
The Citizens Budget Advisory (CBA) group held their first meeting October 17 and all of the members from last year returned as well as three additional residents. While residents are encouraged to join at the CBA’s second meeting, November 13, at 6 p.m. in room 213 of Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, after that, the group will be closed. Residents can attend to listen, but won’t be able to officially join as too much “catch up” on basic budget information would need to occur.
The board did not give tax rate guidance, but requested that Young and his staff create a level funded budget, a current services budget, and an ideal budget for the board to review. At their next meeting, November 1, the board will review their executive limitations policy 2.5, financial planning and budgeting.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent